Bigger, better, and with a new name, COEX is Korea's bid for convention hall superstardom.

Just about every national leader has learned to say that tourism is an important part of the country's economy. But when President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea spoke at the first APEC Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Tourism at Seoul's COEX Convention Centre this past July, his remarks were hardly pro forma. He said, in part, “We learn from history that tourism has contributed to the resolution of regional conflicts and to world peace. This is being proven on the Korean Peninsula. South and North Korea began tours to Kumgangsan, the Diamond Mountains, in the North in November 1998. This began to foster an atmosphere of reconciliation on the peninsula, promoted exchanges, and became an important turning point for the settlement of peace.”

So when the managers of the 2.4-million-square-foot COEX say they consider international conferences — and technology conferences in particular — to be the “cream of the international tourism business,” they're not just being pleasant. They really believe that having Comdex in-house (which they did, in August) is not just good business but part of achieving peace and prosperity.

COEX is doing its part to lure tech conferences. Built in 1979 as KOEX (Korean Exhibition Hall), it was hugely expanded and re-named COEX (Convention-Exhibition Hall) in 1998. Then, in May 2000, it re-opened yet again, refurbished and fitted out with an Intelligent Building System. An IBS is essentially a flexible-configuration Local Area Network built entirely with Category 5 wire. Many systems can be supported over this single high-capacity network, including, in this case, Ethernet, ATM (asynchronous transfer mode), and video. What makes it “intelligent” is that the facility's heating, cooling, and security systems share the network. In short, it integrates voice, data, and images with the flexibility of a virtual LAN, plus building controls.

Stack ‘em High

COEX is built on eight floors, of which four are above ground and house the meeting and convention facilities. Conference organizers who are reflexively suspicious of multifloor convention halls will be pleased to learn that the building's designers have put loading docks not only on the ground floor, where the Indian (78,000 square feet) and the Pacific (111,600 square feet) exhibit halls are located, but also on the third floor, where the main 78,000-square-foot convention hall and an 1,100-seat auditorium are found. All of COEX's large halls and ballrooms have flush-with-the-floor trench boxes at 30-foot intervals; the trench boxes contain compressed air, water, drainage, electric, and communications services.

The showcase hall is the ground-floor Indian Hall, which has, along with its 78,000 square feet of exhibition space, 5,200 square feet of meeting room space and 7,750 square feet of “swing” space. It has all the latest in audiovisual display equipment, lighting, and data transmission services.

The top floor houses a 30-room conference center with a 5,200-square-foot grand hall; on the second floor a VIP center has a dozen rooms appointed for board meetings and a luxurious large circular conference room that seats 80 and comes with facilities for simultaneous translation in up to 12 languages.

A service with special appeal for international conference organizers is an on-site city ticket office, where attendees can not only check in for flights but also clear security and immigration. There is around-the-clock limousine service to Kimpo Airport, which is about 40 minutes away by car.

Sharing the site with COEX and the Seoul World Trade Center are two hotels. The COEX Inter-Continental has 630 sleeping rooms; the Grand Inter-Continental has 541. To learn more about COEX, contact Seung-Hyun Yoon — he's the on-site convention team leader at shyoon@star.coex.co.kr.